Minutes after the Rose Bowl had ended in stirring victory, coach Kirby Smart was asked what he was thinking as Georgia won the game, and Smart had a succinct but slogan-filled answer:
“These kids believed. They never stopped chopping wood. And they just keep the main thing the main thing.”
If only Smart had said “attack the day,” then he would have hit the trifecta.
When a team is winning, a slogan becomes a catchphrase, and an inspiration, printed on T-shirts. When it’s not winning, the same slogans become corny. But Georgia is winning, one win away from a national championship. So here come the T-shirts.
Smart and Georgia didn’t originate these phrases – with the possible exception of one of them – but the Bulldogs have appropriated them and made them their own. At least for this special season. Here’s a look at the origin of each of the team’s three main slogans, going in order of when UGA began using them.
‘Keep the main thing the main thing’
There are several different wordings for this, but the main thing, as it were, is that this Georgia football team is far from the first to use the term. In fact it’s not even the first set of Georgia coaches to do so: former assistant coach Bryan McClendon was among those who uttered the phrase to his players earlier this decade.
So where does the phrase come from? It’s hard to say for sure. A Google search reveals that the late motivational author Stephen Covey used it often. It’s also cited as “an oft-quoted adage from the corporate world” on a religious web site. And pastor T.D. Jakes gave a sermon entitled “Keeping the main thing the main thing.”
Smart only began using the phrase noticeably in advance of the Rose Bowl, but he proceeded to hammer away at it. During one answer to a question last Saturday he said “keep the main thing the main thing” four times in a span of 10 sentences. When asked what the main thing was, Smart responded:
“Well, the main thing would be what your objective is. If you’re the offensive linemen, it’s to dominate the guy in front of you. If you’re a defensive back, it’s to stay in front of the receiver. But the main thing is the main thing.”
A day later, at a joint coaches press conference, Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley gave a 123-word response when asked about balancing extracurricular activities and the game. Then it was Smart’s turn to answer, and he only needed 12 words.
“Yeah, we just try to keep the main thing the main thing,” Smart said, and was done.
‘Keep chopping wood’
This phrase has been around for decades, possibly longer. There are self-help books written with the title, and Georgia is only the latest team to adopt the motto.
Georgia wisely has not gotten too literal with the phrase. Unlike the Jacksonville Jaguars, circa 2003.
Then-Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio put a tree stump in the middle of the Jaguars’ locker room to emphasize the slogan. He also had an ax ingrained into the stump, and when punter Chris Hanson took the ax and hacked away, he gashed his right, non-kicking leg and had to be taken to the hospital.
Around that time, Greg Schiano used it as one of his main slogans when he turned Rutgers into a contender. Schiano first heard the phrase when a sports psychologist repeated it to the Miami football team, where Schiano was the defensive coordinator. When Rutgers began using it, the slogan spread around campus, and students began doing a chop at games.
“If you live by that motto, it can apply to anything in your life,” Rutgers fullback Brian Leonard told the Associated Press in 2006. “You get fired from your job, you just stay focused, you keep chopping and you get a new job. If you mess up on a play, you stay focused, put it behind you and look to the future, don’t look to the past. That’s what we do as a team now.”
It’s not clear when Georgia began using it, but it was sometime this year. It started to spread like wildfire, so to speak, during preseason camp. Georgia sophomore safety J.R. Reed explained the slogan’s meaning in October.
“We believe that if we keep going and chopping wood and keep our heads down and keep working, then we can be the team that we want to be,” Reed said. “We don’t pay attention to the rankings. We keep working like we’re ranked whatever we were ranked at the beginning of the year. And we keep going. It starts in practice, keep our heads down, and like we said, our motto is just to keep chopping wood.”
‘Attack the day’
This motto sprang up shortly after Smart took over at Georgia. Players said strength and conditioning coordinator Scott Sinclair began emphasizing it, and it went from there.
“So just take each day for what it has and try to have your best practice every day,” cornerback Aaron Davis said in Spring 2016.
It then became a song by Georgia tailback and aspiring rapper Sony Michel, whose song, Attack the Day, has been played at Sanford Stadium during pregame warm-ups.
So where did it spring from? There’s not a clear answer. Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, hired at his alma mater three years ago, has used “Attack Each Day,” shortened a bit from his sort-of catchphrase: “Attacking this day with enthusiasm unknown to mankind.”
Pretty much every college team has some sort of slogan. Georgia used “Finish the Drill” in the Mark Richt years, a saying that appears to be retired now, while the Erk Russell-inspired “GATA” still crops up every now and then. It stands for Get After Their (word) that starts with A.
There’s no rule against having more than one slogan. And there’s no rule against taking a good one that’s already been used by others. This time next week, Georgia is hoping it will be able to use another one: “national champions.”